The Monroe City boys basketball team made nine threes Friday night en route to a 72-62 victory over Hallsville to reach the district championship.
A bum ankle has prevented Bryce Stark from having the impact he has wanted during the second half of the season.
The Monroe City sophomore’s ankle is feeling pretty good after Friday night.
Stark connected on a trio of 3-pointers in the first half to help the Panthers race out to 36-28 lead over No. 1 seed Hallsville.
The rest of his teammates followed suit in a 72-62 win over the Indians in Friday night’s Class 3 District 8 semifinal contest.
“It feels really good,” Stark said of the win and his sore ankle. “Even in coming off the bench, I still want to do well, but tonight seeing those first few shots go in...that felt really great.”
The sophomore finished with a career-high 16 points.
Stark’s first 3-pointer of the game came in the closing seconds of the opening quarter. The shot gave the No. 4 seed Panthers a 14-10 lead heading into the second.
Blake Hays and Stark knocked down back-to-back shots from behind the arc on Monroe City’s first two possessions of the second stanza for a 20-12 lead.
Stark’s third triple of the half capped the scoring for the Panthers, as they shot 8-for-10 on 3-pointers before halftime.
“We were shooting the ball extremely well,” Panthers coach Brock Edris said. “When you are hitting shots like that it makes you look pretty good and it makes everything else come a lot easier.”
With Hallsville entering the game state-ranked, Edris knew the Indians would come out swinging in the second half.
But the Panthers scored the first 12 points of the third quarter for a commanding 48-28 lead with 4 minutes, 16 seconds left in the period.
“Right away we felt like we would see their best after halftime,” the Panthers coach said. “Our guys stepped up, made plays and extended the lead to 20.”
Hallsville missed its first eight shots of the third.
Monroe City would need just about every bit of its 20-point lead.
A Luke Hicks corner three proceeded four free throws as the Indians closed out the period on a 9-2 run.
Hallsville then turned up its pressure and eventually trimmed the Panthers lead down to 58-52 with 4:01 left in the game.
Monroe City sank 12 of 14 free throws over the final three minutes to hold on for the win.
“It’s a good thing we had the cushion we did,” Edris stated. “But give Hallsville credit, they do a great job of forcing turnovers with their pressure. We just were fortunate to make the free throws at the end.”
Monroe City connected on 21 of 27 freebies on the night.
C.E. Talton led the Panthers with 17 points, while Hays and Zach Osborn totaled 15 points a piece to give Monroe City four players in double figures.
“We all have been working on our shots a lot in practice,” Stark said. “And coach has been talking to us about being more aggressive and taking the shots when we are open, so we took that to heart tonight.”
The Panthers shot 21-for-37 from the field for the game, including 9 of 13 from distance.
“These last few games, everyone has been sharing the ball a lot better and everyone is playing with a lot of confidence and looking to score,” Edris said. “We knew in order to beat a good Hallsville team we were going to have to have a night like we did tonight.”
Monroe City will face No. 2 seed Clark County on Saturday afternoon for the district championship.
It will be the third meeting this season between the two teams, with Clark County winning both matchups in the regular season.
Clark County defeated No. 6 seed Macon 67-49 in the second semifinal.
“Hopefully we come back rested up and play with a lot of energy tomorrow because we are going to need it,” Edris said.
Tipoff is slated for 2:30 p.m. at Highland.